DURHAM, N.C. — Duke University Medical Center is creating a new institute with the goal of turning lab discoveries into human health therapies more quickly.

Duke announced the initiative on Tuesday, with a $52.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health providing the funding. The grant covers five years.

The Duke Translational Medicine Institute is one of a consortium of similar programs to be established at 11 other institutions. The NIH is underwriting the cost with $699.5 million in funds over five years.

“The development of this consortium represents the first systematic change in our approach to clinical research in 50 years,” said NIH Director Elias Zerhouni. “Working together, these sites will serve as discovery engines that will improve medical care by applying new scientific advances to real world practice. We expect to see new approaches reach underserved populations, local community organizations and health care providers to ensure that medical advances are reaching the people who need them.”

The NIH spelled out the following goals for the new program:

  • Develop better designs for clinical trials to ensure that patients with rare as well as common diseases benefit from new medical therapies
  • Produce enriched environments to educate and develop the next generation of researchers trained in the complexities of translating research discoveries into clinical trials and ultimately into practice
  • Design new and improved clinical research informatics tools
  • Expand outreach efforts to minority and medically underserved communities
  • Assemble interdisciplinary teams that cover the complete spectrum of research … biology, clinical medicine, dentistry, nursing, biomedical engineering, genomics, and population sciences
  • Forge new partnerships with private and public health care organizations
  • Robert Califf, who has served as director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute for the past decade, will head the new Duke program. Califf is also vice chancellor for clinical research at Duke.

    “The work we will do in the new institute will streamline how we move diagnostic technologies, prevention efforts and therapies that prove effective in clinical trials into the hands of physicians and other health care providers in caring for patients,” Califf said in a statement.

    “This grant will provide the resources to establish a framework and infrastructure for achieving these goals by creating an environment that fosters speedier delivery of new treatments and health care practices to the community,” he added. “Indeed, through the effective use of electronic health records we hope to involve the individual person and families in preventing illness and coping with existing illness in a way that has been only a dream in the past.”

    Califf already has an aggressive agenda in mind. One priority, for example, will be major investments in information technology.

    “We will establish an information technology infrastructure that facilitates the movement of information among many locations in North Carolina, nationally and internationally, including our new medical school in Singapore and evolving relationships on every continent through the Duke Clincial Research Institute, the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology and the Global Health Institute so we can manage projects more efficiently,” he said. “This technology also should help us more smoothly navigate the regulatory and financial hurdles involved in conducting research these days.”

    The NIH has plans to provide additional funding and to expand the consortium to some 60 institutions by 2012.

    Also receiving funds in the first round were Columbia University, Rockefeller University, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, University of California – Davis, University of Pennsylvania, University of Rochester, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, University of Pittsburgh, University of California – San Francisco, and Yale University.

    The Duke institute will serve as an “administrative umbrella” for several entities, including the Duke Clinical Research Institute; the Duke Translational Research Institute; the Duke Clinical Research Unit; and the Duke Community Clinical Research unit.

    “The Durham community, given its diversity of population, can be seen as representative of America as whole,” Califf said. “We hope to demonstrate the benefits of applying scientific and medical knowledge to health care delivery that can be broadly applicable to the country as a whole. Within five years, we expect to see improvement in rates of death from heart disease and stroke, as well as an improvement in cancer detection rates in Durham County. It’s a bold goal, but I think we can achieve it.”

    For the complete NIH overview of the project and associated links, see: www.nih.gov/news/pr/oct2006/ncrr-03.htm